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Computer hardware is any physical device used in or with your machine, whereas software is a collection of programming code installed on your computer’s hard drive. In other words, hardware is something you can hold in your hand, whereas software cannot be held in your hand. You can touch hardware, but you cannot touch software. Hardware is physical, and software is virtual.

NoteWhile software may come on a CD or DVD, the disc is the storage medium for the programming code that makes up the software. The disc is not the actual software.

For example, the computer monitor you are using to read this text, and the mouse you are using to navigate this web page are computer hardware. The Internet browser allowing you to view this page, and the operating system that the browser is running on are considered software. A video card is hardware, and a computer game is software. You can touch and feel the video card, and the computer uses it to play a computer game, but you cannot touch or feel the programming code that makes up the computer game.

Further information and examples

All software utilizes at least one hardware device to operate. For example, a video game, which is software, uses the computer processor (CPU), memory (RAM), hard drive, and video card to run. Word processing software uses the computer processor, memory, and hard drive to create and save documents.

Hardware is what makes a computer work. A CPU processes information and that information can be stored in RAM or on a hard drive. A sound card provides sound to speakers, and a video card provides an image to a monitor. Each of these are examples of hardware components.

Can a computer run without software?

In most situations, yes, a computer can run without software being installed. However, if an operating system or interpreter is not found, it either generates an error or doesn’t output any information. A computer needs an operating system that allows both the user and software to interact with the computer hardware.

Installing programs onto the computer, in addition to an operating system, gives the computer additional capabilities. For example, a word processor is not required, but it allows you to create documents and letters.

  • How to install software.

Can a computer run without hardware?

Most computers require at least a display, hard drive, keyboard, memory, motherboard, processor, power supply, and video card to function properly.

NoteA computer like a thin client and server could be set up to run without a display, keyboard, or hard drive.

If any of these devices are missing or malfunctioning, an error is encountered, or the computer doesn’t start. Adding hardware, such as a disc drive (e.g., CD-ROM or DVD), modem, mouse, network card, printer, sound card, or speakers are not required, but give the computer additional functionality.

The following table highlights the points that differentiate a hardware from a software.

Hardware Software
Hardware is the physical component of a computer system. Software is the programming language that makes hardware functional.
It has the permanent shape and structure, which cannot be modified. It can be modified and reused, as it has no permanent shape and structure.
The external agents such as dust, mouse, insects, humidity, heat, etc. can affect the hardware (as it is tangible). The external agents such as dust, mouse, insects, humidity, heat, etc. cannot affect (as it is not tangible).
HW works with binary code (i.e., 1’s to 0’s) . SW functions with the help of high level language like COBOL, BASIC, JAVA, etc.
HW takes in only machine language, i.e., lower level language. It takes in higher level language, easily readable by a human being.
It is not affected by the computer bug or virus. SW is affected by the computer bug or virus.
It cannot be transferred from one place to other electronically. It can transfer from one place to other electronically.
Duplicate copy of hardware cannot be created. A user can create copies of a software as many as he wishes.

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